Palin, resentments, and populism

peasants with pitchforks

Frank Rich. NY Times

Culture is politics. Palin is at the red-hot center of age-old American resentments that have boiled up both from the ascent of our first black president and from the intractability of the Great Recession for those Americans who haven’t benefited from bailouts. As Palin thrives on the ire of the left, so she does from the disdain of Republican leaders who, with a condescension rivaling the sexism they decry in liberals, belittle her as a lightweight or instruct her to eat think-tank spinach.

The only person who can derail Palin is Palin herself. Should she not self-destruct, she will doom G.O.P. hopes of a 2012 comeback. But the rest of the country cannot rest easy. The rage out there is larger than Palin and defies partisan labeling. Her ever-present booster Continetti, writing in The Weekly Standard, suggested that she recast the century-old populist outrage of William Jennings Bryan by adopting the message “You shall not crucify mankind upon the cross of Goldman Sachs.” If Obama can’t tamp down that rage across the political map, Palin will at the very least pave the way for a demagogue with less baggage to pick up her torch.

The resentments and populism are quite real and the rage grows more every day. The message can’t be tamped down nor should it be. But Palin hasn’t got the chops to lead a populist movement and even Republican insiders know that.

But sooner or later, someone will lead that populist movement. Its roots and grievances are real, and they cut across all traditional (or should I say “archaic”) party boundaries.

But such leaders need not and probably won’t be demagogues. That’s just the elitist paranoia of the NY Times talking. They don’t want a populist uprising. Such things scare them. Not does Obama have the ability to tamp down the rage. Because first he needs to acknowledge that such rage exists and then do the logical thing, which would be to break up the banks (like Teddy Roosevelt did with the Standard Oil.) That would diffuse the rage. But so far Obama, while he’s been quite good on some issues, has done nothing to break the power of the big banks. Quite the contrary, he’s stacked his administration with insiders from them.

The populist revolt is already having an effect. Some members of Congress are moving to audit the fed and saying they want to break up the banks. The impetus for that is coming from the people, from that populist rage, not from the government. So let’s keep those populist fires stoked. We are making progress.

Palin is a transitional figure. But populism cuts across traditional boundaries. So I say, let’s all listen to what each other is saying about the economy, the banks, the looting by the few of the many, and forget about left vs. right. We can revisit that later. Imagine what we could do if we were truly united.

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